New NASA project to map Earth’s forests in 3D

The maps will help researchers to find how much carbon is exactly stored in planet's forests

By Vani Manocha
Last Updated: Monday 17 August 2015


Forests from across the world will now be captured in NASA’s 3D maps. A laser-based instrument is being developed by the agency for the International Space Station to learn more about the planet’s carbon cycle.

The international aeronautical agency will use an instrument called the Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) lidar, usually used by scientists to measure the height of an object or landmark. It will use remote sensing technology to measure distance by illuminating the target and analysing the light that it reflects.

Lidar has the unique ability to peer into the tree canopy to precisely measure the height and internal structure of the forest at the fine scale required to accurately estimate their carbon content,” said Bryan Blair, the deputy principal investigator for GEDI at Goddard. The scientists will also be able to estimate how much biomass the trees contain and, in turn, how much carbon they are storing.

“GEDI lidar will have a tremendous impact on our ability to monitor forest degradation, adding to the critical data needed to mitigate the effects of climate change,” says Patrick O'Shea, University of Maryland vice president and chief research Officer, in a NASA press release.

It is well-known that trees absorb carbon and store it for long time. But what the researchers have still not been able to find is how much carbon is exactly stored in planet's forests. “The GEDI data will provide us with global-scale insights into how much carbon is being stored in the forest biomass. This information will be particularly powerful when combined with the historical record of changes captured by the US’ long-standing program of Earth-orbiting satellites, such as Landsat and MODIS,” says Piers Sellers, deputy director of Goddard’s Sciences and Exploration Directorate. 

By combining the findings from the instrument with spatially comprehensive maps from other satellites showing where development and deforestation are taking place, or with studies that reveal the composition of forests, scientists will have a more powerful tool set for addressing questions about land use, habitat diversity and climate effects.

Using climate-FVS to project landscape-level forest carbon stores for 100 years from field and LiDAR measures of initial conditions

Net carbon uptake has increased through warming-induced changes in temperate forest phenology

Warming accelerates decomposition of decades-old carbon in forest soils

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